During Wednesday’s School Committee meeting, Wilmington school officials discussed the district’s security in the wake of December’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Superintendent of Schools Joanne Benton said that even before the Newtown incident, Wilmington had been working towards implementing the Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate (ALICE) method of school safety training. That will likely be implemented by this fall as teachers and staff members become trained.
The district is holding a public hearing on March 7 to explain to the community what the ALICE program is about. Benton said that ALICE is designed to give adults the ability to make quick decisions in the event that a shooter does enter the school.
Currently, schools lock their doors 15 minutes after students come in and there are cameras in place to provide a visual of who is attempting to buzz into the school.
“I think we all struggle with how we find a balance between finding a safe building without building a fortress,” said Benton. “Our schools are not fortresses, and they’re not meant to be.”
School Committee member Robert Hayes said that when the ALICE proposal was initially brought to the board last year, he was hesitant to impliment it at the elementary school level because the children are so young. Hayes said on Wednesday night, however, that he has since changed his mind.
“I was skeptical, and thought it would be best for grades six through twelve,” said Hayes. “After Sandy Hook, I am completely sold on the program and support the decision of having it throughout the entire district.”
There are some measures, however, that will not be possible for cost reasons, according to Benton. The superintendent said she was “shocked” to learn that it costs $200 per square foot for bulletproof glass when she looked into it as a possibility at the new high school. At that rate, it would cost about $90,000 per door.
Instead, the building architects recommended laminate, shatter proof glass.
Another move that Benton said is too expensive for the district’s budget is placing a police officer in every school. She added that there also are not enough retired police officers who would be able to volunteer to fill that roll.
Benton did say the district will look at what changes it could make at all of its schools, including the schools that do not have a secretary’s office directly next to the entrance.
“We need to think about that,” said Benton. “I’m not ready yet to make a recommendation on what to do. I encourage the community to send me ideas.”